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'Up Heartbreak Hill' in Context

Navajo Tradition of Running

The Native tradition of running arose out of a spiritual desire to honor the earth, the sky and everything sacred.





Up Heartbreak Hill focuses on the tradition of running that exists for Navajo and members of other American Indian tribes. Thomas grew up idolizing Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota/Sioux) and met him as a child during a local fun run.

The Native tradition of running arose out of a spiritual desire to honor the earth, the sky and everything sacred. Additionally, Native Americans have long understood and appreciated the positive benefits of running. They believe running creates a healthy and strong body, increases one's energy and drives away feelings of unhappiness. Prior to their encounter with Pueblo tribes and Europeans, they did not utilize extensive horticulture techniques or have horses and other livestock, so they also relied on running for hunting and other kinds of food gathering. Running further served as a practical means of trade and communication between neighboring communities and tribes. Today, running provides American Indian tribes a way to create pride and build cultural unity and self-esteem.

Did you know…

Raised on the Navajo Reservation in Ganado, Arizona, Alvina Begay is a long distance runner and ambassador for Nike N7; she qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in 2012.

Caption:Thomas stretches on the track at Navajo Pine   Credit: Anthony Thosh Collins (Pima/Osage/Seneca-Cayuga)

» Access Genealogy. "Navaho Indian Tribe History."
» Barefoot Running. "The Ongoing Revival of Native American Running Traditions."
» Enochs, Ross. "The Franciscan Mission to the Navajos: Mission Method and Indigenous Religion, 1898-1940." Catholic Historical Review, 92 (1), 2006.
» Navajo People - The Diné.
» Northern Arizona University. "Hopi Running."



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